Last week Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spoke before the U.S. House of Representatives. As I listened to her well-articulated speech, I resonated with every word. I especially loved the way she described why she had to stand up, not for herself alone, but because of the excuses she heard that would give others permission to act in similar ways to other women. It was powerful!
I know many other women also resonated with her words as we’ve shared our own experiences of being disrespected, disregarded, and worse, in a culture that simply doesn’t value girls and women in the same way it values boys and men. I am thankful that this woman used her power to lift up the voices of women, who are often marginalized.
I was so moved by her speech, I decided to post it on our Safe Church Facebook page. Those active in safe church ministry know that women suffer abuse at far higher rates than men do. Yet we don’t speak often about that.
The facts are undeniable, yet we always receive so much pushback when we bring gender into the equation, and we prefer to engage people, not alienate them. Therefore we often choose to keep silent about the gendered aspect of abuse. And frankly, we are very happy to include everyone when we talk about abuse. We believe that every single person is uniquely created in the image of God, with inherent dignity and worth. Jesus said that the way we treat the least of the people he’s created, it’s as if we are treating Jesus himself that same way. (See Matt. 25) What if we practiced seeing Jesus in each person, in every interaction?
Our mission in Safe Church is to build communities where everyone is respected and protected. Everyone means everyone, regardless of gender, race, political affiliation, views on abortion, being a capitalist or socialist, and so on. Again, everyone means everyone. Therefore, we equip congregations to stand against all forms of abuse, to make efforts to prevent it, and to respond with justice and compassion wherever it occurs.
I was on vacation when I posted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech, just checking in before heading off to the family cottage where there is no cell coverage or internet. The family cottage is filled with memories and I love spending time there with my children and grandchildren who travel from other states to be there together each summer. I completely missed what was referred to as the “social media fire” that happened regarding my post, which led another Safe Church staff member to take it down.
I was saddened when I learned what had happened. Though I didn’t see any of the comments, I would guess that most were politically focused. That is not the point, and not at all what her speech was about. The point is that no one deserves the disrespect that she received. Can we agree about that? Is it OK for a Congressional Representative, a leader who sets the example for others, to refer to a colleague, in front of reporters using the words that Rep. Ted Yoho used? Is this OK?
I wonder if we are able to look inside ourselves and consider where our pushback or angry backlash comes from. What do our thoughts and feelings, and our message say about us?
I can't complete this reflection without saying something about white male power in our culture, and all that goes along with it, including at times the acceptance of incivility and the disrespectful, abusive language used by some, which is represented here. It is so common, a normalized part of the earned privilege of white men. There are white men who would never use the language that Representative Yoho used, yet might be unaware of how their far nicer words and actions play into the narrative of devaluing women.
A colleague, Melissa Stek, has written an excellent article about the same dynamic played out in a different context. It’s called, “The Costliness of Covert Sexism.” Those who are on the receiving end of this kind of dehumanizing language and behavior, who stand up to challenge this norm, are accused of being disrupters, or wily manipulators, playing gender or race cards. This is not a fair playing field, for women, and for others who are marginalized.
I wonder what it might take for us to begin to open ourselves to listen to these voices, and to learn from them. Why is it that the marginalized voices seem to stay the same, for decades? What's preventing real change? What are our fears that prevent us from humbly listening?
I wonder how the Church is called to look different. We, the bride of Christ, blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms, filled with the Holy Spirit and with power (See Ephesians 1). I wonder how we are living into the biblical vision to be a blessed community so that we might be a blessing to the nations.
The Christian organization, Bread for the World, accepted the resignation of board member, Rep. Ted Yoho, after the public confrontation with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The organization noted that his recent actions and words did not reflect the ethical standards they expect of board members and they sought his resignation to reaffirm their commitment to come alongside women and people of color as they lead us to a more racially inclusive and equitable world.
I wonder what kind of future world we envision. Are we content with what is, with oppressive racial and gender hierarchies? Are we open to hope for something better, for communities where all people, created in God's image, can thrive. When we pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven,” what do we envision?
Bread for the World may disagree on other issues, but stood with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on this one. The question remains for us to answer for ourselves. Where do we stand, is this OK?
Note: If you choose to comment, please follow The Network guidelines and keep to the topic, which is the recent interchange between two members of congress, as a representative sample of the disrespect faced far too often in the lives of women and other marginalized people.